“Alone, Ypsilanti” by Jared Yates Sexton

Image by Deanna Larsen

I have this dream. This dream where everything goes wrong. It all goes wrong and my teeth fall out. They crack and break and fall out of my head. I’ll be talking to someone – my girlfriend, my mom, my dentist – and it starts. I’m talking and then I’m watching my teeth fall out. I close my mouth and try and hold them back but they rush out like a waterfall, a sea of white teeth vomiting out of me.

I always wake up. I’m in a bed under my comforter, in my bedroom, in my house. In Michigan. In my girlfriend’s arms. I scream and touch my teeth to be sure. You had the dream again, my girlfriend says. I did, I say. Your teeth fell out, my girlfriend says. All over, I say. They fell in a pile and the pile grew until it was a mountain. A mountain of teeth, my girlfriend says. A mountain of teeth, I say.

Over breakfast we discuss the dream. My girlfriend and me. I stir my coffee while she scoops the heart out of a grapefruit. I’m still frightened, I tell her. You should be, she says. I read in a magazine it means you have something to say, she says. Something difficult. I take a drink but can’t taste anything. I put my cup down and try my teeth again. They are all sturdy, good fine teeth. My dentist tells me there’s nothing to worry about. I am a wonderful specimen, he tells me.

My mom and I shop at the mall at stores with age-appropriate blouses and slacks. You need rest, she says to me. She is searching through a bin of discount costume jewellery. You’re tired, she says. You’re worn, she says. Maybe, I say. You’re too worried about your career, she says. What career? I say. I don’t have a career, I say.

I don’t have a career.

My dentist, so happy to see me. His staff of buxom nurses always close to his side. My son, he says. He puts me in his chair and places a bib around my neck. One of his nurses, a blonde with curls the size of racecar shocks, fumbles with his belt while another, a short redhead, massages his fingers with oils and stones. The exam begins and he coos and the nurses coo. What teeth, he says. What wonderful, lovely teeth. I want to take pictures, he says. I want to hang pictures of your teeth from every wall in my house.

A television commercial tells me I am not in a dream. A lawyer in his office, selling class-action lawsuits. His hair in a perfect part. Gold watches on his wrist. You are not dreaming, he says. This world is real, he says. You are real, he says. And then more about class-action lawsuits. Hotlines and fine print.

A presentation. My girlfriend and me sitting in our living room, on our couch, drinking from glasses we haven’t owned in ages. Pay attention to the graph, she says. The peaks and valleys tell the entire story, she says. Here is the height of our love. She points to a wonderful swell in the past. And here it is, she says, pointing to a rot-coloured line that runs to the bottom of the poster board. This is today, she says. This is where my love has ceased, she says. I think I’m dreaming, I say. You’re not dreaming, she says.

A restaurant, a table in the front, by the windows, my mom and me watching the cars pass. A lady next to us is discussing an explosion in the sky. Limbs littering the street. My mom breaks a bone on her plate and sucks the marrow until there is no marrow to suck. I’m marrying your father again, she says. I think I’m asleep, I say. I think I’m dreaming, I say. You’re not dreaming, she says. Her hands glisten with sweat. I’m marrying your father again, she says. But Dad’s been dead for eight years, I say. No, she says. He’s only been resting.

The nurses prepare bowls of water and milk and sing with the voice of a tight-hinged door. A thousand radios on every shelf of my dentist’s office, all tuned to the same static-filled station. Your teeth, he says. He’s taking pictures with a camera the size of a car, the nurses strumming his chest. A hammer in his apron, a bucket at his side. He draws the hammer from his apron and slams the head against my teeth and they shatter. My dentist fills his fist with them and swings again. The nurses take their turns. My mouth filled. My lap filled. The bucket and floor filled. The room filled and my dentist and his nurses swimming through a white sea. I’m dreaming, I say to myself. My dentist, through the waves, his head the size of a mad whale’s, the nurses like barnacles suckling from his giant whale teats. You’re not dreaming, he says. I promise you, you’re not dreaming. I’m inclined to believe.


Jared Yates Sexton is an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Georgia Southern University and Managing Editor at BULL. His work has been published around the world and his first collection of stories, An End To All Things, will be released by Atticus Books in November.

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